As a high-octane prelude to the nation's most patriotic Memorial Day weekend celebration, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski kicked off Charlotte Motor Speedway's five-stop Mission 600 tour with sailors at Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest naval station, on Thursday.

Keselowski, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion, toured the expansive USS Gerald R. Ford - the Navy's newest and most advanced aircraft carrier - which is 1,100 feet long and is home to 5,000 sailors. Additionally, Keselowski, dressed in a Navy uniform, took a familiarity flight in a helicopter over Naval Station Norfolk with Helicopter C Combat Squadron 9 and met with commanding officers and the crew who launch aircraft from the carrier. The 2012 Cup Series champion and founder of Brad Keselowski's Checkered Flag Foundation spoke with numerous sailors and took in the sights and sounds of his first trip to the remarkable aircraft carrier.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to see our nation's heroes on the active duty side," Keselowski said. "It's a great chance to engage. Sometimes we rely on people to come to us, and this is a great chance to go to the men and women who are serving and to see their workplace. Like anything else, it always helps to appreciate something you've seen in person, and I have a deep appreciation for the entire United States military. Seeing a vessel and a vehicle like this and the team it takes to operate the USS Gerald R. Ford, it's really an amazing experience.

"I'm a big supporter of the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country. … I know that from my racing operations, it takes a team. I joke with people about doing 10 percent of the work and getting 90 percent of the glory. Here, it's a complete inverse. (The soldiers) deserve the glory. I'm very proud to get the chance to be here."

Other drivers tentatively scheduled to appear for Mission 600 are Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 pit crew at Fort Bragg on April 26 and Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 pit crew at U.S. Coast Guard Station Wrightsville Beach on May 3. Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, the driver of the No. 43 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, will head to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base on May 9. An additional visit to Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune is in the planning stages.

As part of the salute to the military, race fans are encouraged to use the hashtag #KnowYourMil.

Through the speedway's "Patriot Partners" program, race fans or corporate customers can buy a Coca-Cola 600 race ticket to send a member of the U.S. Armed Forces to America's Home for Racing for just $25.